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Article by: Arlene Satchell
A new $200 million launch pad for more international flights at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is set to open later this month inside Terminal 1, the Broward County home of Southwest Airlines.
The new Concourse A passenger facility — part of an estimated $333 million modernization and expansion project under way at Terminal 1– is expected to begin welcoming travelers on June 30, airport officials said Thursday during a preview tour.
Concourse A will sport five new gates, more restaurants and shops and a Customs and Border Protection inspection station. It will link Southwest’s existing Concourses B and C through a connector building that will also offer more food and beverage and retail outlets in coming months.
The new facility will primarily serve Southwest travelers flying aboard a slew of new international flights the airline is rolling out this year.
Among them are daily nonstop flights to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, which will lift off on Sunday. Those flights, however, will be temporarily routed through Terminal 4 on the airport’s south side until Concourse A is completed.
Southwest also has announced that new daily nonstop service to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos will launch on Nov. 5. Flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic will commence on Nov. 6.
On Thursday, Southwest opened reservations for the Providenciales service with introductory fares starting at $59 one-way. The prices are good for travel between Nov. 5 and Jan. 7, excluding certain blackout dates.
“Modestly 21 years ago we had five flights a day to Tampa and now we have 63 daily departures,” Gary Kelly, Southwest chairman and CEO told visitors Thursday. “There’s still more to come for Southwest and South Florida, so stay tuned. We’re very excited about the future.”
The new concourse will propel Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood forward by providing opportunities for Southwest and its other partner carriers to grow, said Mark Gale, the airport’s CEO and aviation director.
By July, Southwest will offer 21 percent of the scheduled available airline seats at the Fort Lauderdale airport, a 41 percent capacity increase from July 2016, Gale said. “That’s an incredible and enviable statistic for any airline to achieve.”
Concourse A will usher in even more amenities and services to enhance the customer experience through the Fort Lauderdale airport, Gale noted.
They include new gate-area seating with embedded electrical charging outlets for mobile devices, spacious restrooms and a pet relief area for travelers with service animals. The concourse will also feature four public art installations.
New eateries and shops on tap include Burger Fi, La Familia Tacos & Tequila, Starbucks Coffee, Tech On the Go and CNN and Hudson news stands.
During Thursday’s preview, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief presented Kelly with a proclamation declaring June 1 as Southwest Appreciation Day.
Since Southwest began operations in Fort Lauderdale in January 1996, the Dallas-based airline has carried more than 55 million passengers on more than 500,000 flights to and from the airport, Sharief noted in the proclamation.
As of March, Southwest was the third-busiest carrier at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood with 18.3 percent of the passenger traffic behind JetBlue Airways at 24.6 percent and Spirit Airlines at 18.4 percent, airport data show.
“We do want to grow in this market. I think Fort Lauderdale will continue to elevate itself in terms of the significance to the total Southwest network,” Kelly told the Sun Sentinel.
“[Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood] may not be top 10 in terms of flight activity, but it’s top five in terms of our focus, so it’ll be really important for driving our international growth,” Kelly said. “In order for Fort Lauderdale to work well for us internationally, it will need to tie in well to the rest of our domestic network, which means that you’ll also get a focus by us on our domestic route network.”
“The Caribbean has a lot of potential, Mexico does and even South America one of these days and Fort Lauderdale will be one of the prime places we’ll be looking at,” Kelly added.
Tourism representatives from other countries welcomed the new Southwest flights.
“It opens up a new market for us and new opportunities for both Belizeans and South Floridians,” said Karen Bevans, director of tourism for Belize. “This is the second route that Southwest is flying direct to Belize … and because of the results we’ve seen from Houston Hobby, we believe this one will be more successful.”